Accounts and graphic photos of Iraqi prisoner abuse persist in the press despite the fact that the story has run its course.
The world already knows salient details of the prisoner humiliation and nudity, the causes of the abuse are under official investigation, and the courts-martial have begun. Yet, the caterwaul in the press against the American military and the war in Iraq continue.
“U.S. faces growing fear of failure,” noted one recent Washington Post headline.
ABC was the first to air yet another set of photos — these showing two U.S. soldiers grinning next to the body of an Iraqi at the Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad. Al Arabiya, an Arabic broadcaster, also aired the photos of Army Spc. Charles A. Graner and Spc. Sabrina D. Harman — both facing a court-martial for prisoner abuse.
As usual, the source of the photos remained unidentified. ABC billed them as “an exclusive” and noted that the soldiers were “posing over the body of a detainee who was allegedly beaten to death by CIA or civilian interrogators in the prison’s showers.”
Positive human-interest accounts about the armed forces are rare. The press tends to ignore battlefield vignettes from military news services, which could offer an expanded perspective to the public.
For example, 30 U.S. airmen and soldiers delivered school supplies and toys — gifts from American children — to an Iraqi village on Monday. Yesterday, Air Force medical teams airlifted a critically ill Iraqi infant and her mother to an Ohio hospital for treatment.
The news focus is elsewhere.
Earlier this week, Reuters news service announced that three of its “journalists” — actually two Iraqi cameramen and a driver under contract — had been beaten and taunted by Army paratroopers in January.
But an Army investigation released yesterday cleared the soldiers of charges and categorized the incident as “a closed case.”
The report noted that “the soldiers clearly believed that these same Iraqis had attacked them previously” and pronounced that the charges of humiliation made by the Iraqis against the soldiers “are not credible.”
Tim Graham of the Media Research Center (MRC) noted yesterday that the “gay marriage story” overtook the prisoner abuse story in the press, but only for a day.
“This abuse story is just not going away. It’s still the first topic on most network news,” Mr. Graham said. “And there’s strong focus on the court-martials, on the bad apples — it’s as if those troops represent the military at large, as far as the media is concerned. That is very discouraging.”
The center has been following “the bias problem” among broadcasters who use the abuse story to build a case against the war in Iraq and the Bush administration. As a sample, the group tracked abuse stories from April 29 through May 11 on NBC and found that the network aired 58 stories on the abuse in that period.
The MRC also found, however, that in the past year, NBC had aired only five stories on mass graves found in Iraq from the Saddam Hussein era.